9/11's Lesson: War Doesn't Work

Historian Stephen Wertheim says two decades of failed wars have finally made America more likely to embrace military restraint.


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"You don't get to lose a war and expect the result to look like you won it," says historian Stephen Wertheim of the violent and chaotic withdrawal of United States forces and personnel from Afghanistan. "Yet some in Washington are denying reality, calling for still more war and blaming Biden for their failure."

Wertheim is the author of Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy, a study of how American strategists during and after World War II conflated military supremacy with internationalism. Wertheim is also a senior fellow in the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He talks with Reason's Nick Gillespie about how charges of "isolationism" were used to delegitimize dissent in the buildup to World War II, why the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were doomed to failure from their earliest days, what policy makers should be focused on as we approach the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and why a fundamental rethinking of U.S. military and foreign policy is not only urgent but, after a radical shift in public opinion, eminently possible.

"It's remarkable how much the debate over foreign policy has changed [due to]…certain policies like the war in Afghanistan," says Wertheim. "My hope is that we're moving to a new place." He says that the widely recognized failures of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the low risks of war with China and Russia in the near term have shifted public opinion to embrace "a more general military restraint."

Music: Revelation—No Atmosphere FX,  Tristan Barton, Artlist.

Photos: U.S. Central Command Public Affa/Newscom; Peter Morgan.Reuters/Newscom.

Intro edited by Noor Greene; interview edited by Ian Keyser; hosted and narrated by Nick Gillespie.